What risks face those working in shops post-COVID?

While the threat of COVID-19 remains, shops will carry some risk of infection. Find out how to make yours COVID-secure.

Non-essential shops reopened in England on 12th April, following a year where they had to spend periods closed in response to rising COVID cases and lockdown restrictions.

It now appears we are at a point where life will resume to some semblance of normality. As such, those managing stores will be looking forward to a future where they hopefully do not need to close again. However, it’s essential to remember that coronavirus risk has not disappeared, and shops may still present a threat accordingly.

Shoppers walking through a shopping centre wearing masks

As cases continue to fluctuate across the country, staff and customers may still feel anxious entering public settings, including shops. As such, owners need to continue to put appropriate precautions in place to protect others.

This guide explores the risks that may face shops, even after lockdown ends on 19th July, and what you can do to overcome them.

Social distancing

Social distancing is one of the rules set to end on 19th July. Despite this, many people, both staff and customers, may still be anxious at the thought of entering crowded places, including shops. Similarly, if local cases were to rise, authorities might advise that social distancing is reimplemented.

As such, you may want to keep some social distancing measures in your store. This could include limiting the number of people allowed inside at any time or use floor markings, particularly in queues, that encourage people to stand apart.

It may also be advisable to create more room in the shop, such as by rearranging shelves, racks or displays so that people have more space to move around without gathering closely together. You can also incorporate one-way systems and separate entrances/exits to prevent crowding.

Social distancing measures may also be required in your backroom areas, including breakrooms, stockrooms and bathrooms. This could include spacing out tables and seating or limiting the number of staff allowed in each room. Although these measures may be no longer legally required, they can help you restrict transmission risk between your team (especially until the vaccine roll-out is completed) while enabling them to feel comfortable at work.

Mask wearing

The wearing of masks is another rule that will cease to exist if lockdown ends on 19th July. However, the government has still stated people should wear masks if it makes them feel more comfortable and particularly in crowded, indoor settings. This means you may still choose to encourage staff and customers to wear masks in your store.

Woman wearing mask in a supermarket while shopping

Mask wearing may take on increased significance if there is a local increase in cases. It’s therefore worth listening out for government and local authority updates to make sure you are following the correct guidance for your area.

Ventilation

One thing that stores can continue to do to reduce the risk of outbreaks among staff and customers is utilising ventilation. As coronavirus is an airborne virus, introducing ventilation into the workplace can help particles to disperse further away and prevent them from spreading to other people.

There are two ways to introduce ventilation. Firstly, you can use natural air by keeping windows and doors open. Alternatively, you can utilise air conditioning, which will have a similar effect.

Ventilation might prove particularly helpful in the winter months when more of us spend time indoors, where the virus is most likely to spread. If you’re already utilising ventilation, it could be worth keeping your practices going while the risk of coronavirus exists.

Cleaning

Another practice that many businesses will be encouraged to continue is the rigorous cleaning of their workplace.

Cleaning should be done at the end of every workday and cover all areas, including staff areas and equipment. You will also need to clean customer spaces, including toilets and changing rooms. Ensure you have people appointed to carry out cleaning (whether it’s an internal or external resource) and that they have the equipment they need, including bacteria-killing supplies.

Person cleaning escalator in a shopping centre

If a positive case happens to be identified from a staff member, customer, or visitor, you may also need to close to allow for more extensive cleaning.

Hand hygiene

Hand hygiene is another essential tool that shops can use to protect themselves from coronavirus. You likely will already have implemented specific measures, such as encouraging staff to wash hands regularly or keeping hand sanitiser at customer entrances and tills.

After lockdown, it is advisable to keep up these practices. By doing so, you will enable more anxious staff and customers to feel protected, improving their satisfaction. Secondly, better hand hygiene in the workplace can protect staff against all kinds of infection, which means you should experience less sick leave in general.

Continue to encourage staff to wash their hands throughout the working day, especially after using the bathroom, before and after eating or when hands are visibly soiled. Hand washing should be thorough and take at least 20 seconds.

You may also wish to provide them with a hand sanitiser that they can use whilst on the move or between serving customers, so they have constant hand hygiene when required. If you are providing hand sanitiser, be sure to identify a solution that is effective at killing germs and encourages compliance.

Managing visitors

While social distancing was in place, businesses were encouraged to limit the number of people in the workplace at any time. One way to do this was to prevent high volumes of visitors from coming onto site simultaneously, including couriers.

Although the need for social distancing may not be so pressing after 19th July, it could still be worth managing visitors to prevent too many people being in-store at once. This could include staggering delivery times and arranging them for off-peak times.

People queuing to enter a shop in the pandemic

If you do have visitors, make sure they’re aware of any precautions that remain in your business through signage or communication. This will ensure they adhere to them and play their part to minimise the risk.

Test and Trace

One thing that we know will remain, even after lockdown, is the Test and Trace system. Using this system, people who test positive will be required to self-isolate, as may people who come into contact with them depending on their vaccination status.

As such, you should still display Test and Trace QR codes in your business so that customers and visitors can scan in. This means that if someone tests positive, you can alert the necessary contacts if they need to self-isolate.

You may also choose to continue testing your staff. By doing this regularly, you will identify any positive cases ahead of time and stop coronavirus from spreading among your workforce.

If you currently receive free lateral flow tests from the government, this will only last until 19th July. However, if you want to carry out tests beyond this point, you may be able to recruit a third-party provider to arrange tests on your behalf or set up your own programme.

Alternatively, your staff members can take tests at home, ordered from the NHS or picked up from a pharmacy. They can also visit a local testing centre.

It is currently unclear what the role of testing and test centres will continue to be as the vaccination programme completes, so it’s worth following government updates in this area. Until then, testing can help you to keep control of cases among your staff.

If a staff member does test positive, they should still remain at home and avoid coming into the workplace.

Conclusion

As lockdown restrictions come to an end, it is largely down to businesses to decide what level of precaution they want to incorporate into their operations. However, while the threat of coronavirus remains and with cases predicted to rise, it is in the best interest of employers and business owners to do what they can to keep their staff and customers safe.

For shops, this means continuing to allow social distancing where possible, offering people the choice of wearing a mask, utilising cleaning and hand hygiene, and using Test and Trace to monitor cases. By implementing these measures, even when it’s no longer required by law, you will prevent outbreaks stemming from your workplace and allow concerned customers and staff to feel comfortable when on site.

If you need support in preparing your business for the ongoing risk of coronavirus, we can help. We provide solutions, such as efficient hand sanitiser, that can enable you to counteract the hazards and empower your staff to do their job safely.

We also use the most up-to-date government guidance and data to make sure you comply with the proper regulations for your workplace.

Get in touch today to find out more.